Groundbreaking research by Danish geneticists, published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, has succeeded in explaining the high incidence of type 2 diabetes within the Greenlandic population.
The researchers have established that a genetic variation – found in just under one fifth of all Greenlanders' DNA – leads to an 80 percent higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
According to Torben Hansen, a professor from the Novo Nordisk Foundation at the University of Copenhagen (KU) and one of the main contributors to the study, the research can be used to better understand, prevent and diagnose the disease, both in and outside Greenland
“The discovery gives us new knowledge of the causal link between the genetic variant and the development of type 2 diabetes,” he told videnskab.dk.
The variation hinders the production of a protein that transports sugars from the bloodstream to the muscles – a known symptom of diabetes, according to KU Press.
When evolution can’t catch up with dietary change
In the traditional Greenlandic diet – which is heavy in protein and light on carbohydrates – maintaining high blood-sugar levels for as long as possible may have been advantageous and a result of evolutionary adaption, Hansen and Anders Albrechtsen, a colleague at KU, speculate.
However, modern day diets are high in sugars. If the body isn't able to produce the protein that transports sugar away from the bloodstream, dietary changes may explain the growing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the Greenlandic population over the past 25 years.